Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Partington Island

Everything changes. Nothing is forever. Mountains move, rocks slide, roads collapse. Sometimes, chaos and rubble rule. What we want to believe - that we can count on business as usual - is false. Security is not just around the corner, but change certainly is.  

Maybe this is not so bad.  Risk can generate possibilities. Westerners moan, “this too shall pass” but Buddhists call this impermanence and embracing it makes life sing.  Perhaps it’s possible to find comfort in change, to be nurtured, not wounded, by reality. It is as it is, baby.

The unforeseen and seemingly impossible can free you from illusions and put you on a higher path.

On Partington Ridge this winter though, we’d be happy with a new and improved road. Living in Big Sur means navigating some utterly unique episodes of destruction. The latest one arrived last month, just in time for Christmas.

Our beautiful old road, steadfast for 75 years, the solace of my morning commute, collapsed on December 23, two days after the Mayan Apocalypse.

An enormous weathered rock face, composed of dinosaur-sized boulders (and probably as old) rolled down the cliff in a prodigious rainstorm, destroying a 60’ section of the road. Rocks as large as the pillars at Stonehenge crash-landed on Highway One. It was a Biblical event.

 A triptych of boulders resembling Mt. Rushmore is just a little higher up the road, which raises the question, is there more to come? What I could barely conceive of has become a reasonable expectation. 

The frightening becomes “the new normal” as my neighbors, many no longer spring chickens, hike over the path they’ve carved across the slide.

Personally, I prefer the “back road” because that’s where my baptism into this adventure took place. After changing into rough jeans from tights and sequins on New Year’s Eve, I traveled up the Dubois-DeAngulo dirt road at 2am perched like a hood ornament on my neighbor’s all terrain vehicle. This required a serious grip and a good sense of humor. To paraphrase Bette Davis – talk about a bumpy night!

Thanks to my wonderful employer, Deetjens Inn, we now share a Polaris Ranger 4X4 between three Inn employees and Ridge neighbors on an as needed basis. We can travel down to work each day, and taxi neighbors up and down with groceries and supplies.

Partington Island may become a real “eco-resort”, where we pack everything in and out on foot or on 4-wheel drive quad vehicles.  As a friend of mine coined it, we could become “Quadlandia” and remain tranquil in the stillness of Nature.

Everything is somehow smaller and closer as we reach out to our neighbors to arrange rides, share supplies and drink wine together. We solve each problem the lack of road creates step by step, and build consensus over the best course of action for rebuilding it.

Like the shifting rocks above the road, we can’t predict what’s next with perfect accuracy. All of this has deepened my appreciation of survival basics:  is there anything more welcoming than the warmth of a wood fire when you walk indoors on a cold and rainy night? The glow of candlelight while reading beside the fire? Warm clothes, hot food, hugs, and laughter?

It is so very quiet now, delicious, primal quiet. All of us driving cars up and down the road, so necessary in our busy rural lives, has stopped. The relentless drumbeat of modern life slows, and we remember. This is what we came to Big Sur for, after all. We want to feel, as our ancestors did, that we are an essential part of the cosmos, supported by the web of community. 

While we learn to love our neighbors more as we help each other out, we are really a tribe of social hermits here. We treasure the views from our nests, the meditative state of calm that Big Sur brings.  While that deep peace can best be sensed in a solitary way, we are fortunate on Partington Island to share this feeling with like-minded souls.

If there is a creed in Big Sur, it is that this land teaches, heals, and answers prayers. The Esselen, who lived and feasted on this ridge for centuries, leaving hillsides blackened with fire-stones and abalone shells, had a mystical belief: Certain places on Earth transmit all that has happened there. All you have to do is touch them, and you will remember.